“(E)lections are readily perceived as a new beginning. Not so in Montenegro. In the last years the dominant figure in Montenegrin politics was one person: Milo Đukanović. Unlike any other politician in this region, he has remained on the forefront of political decision-making for now 25 years and has switched between being prime minister and president. His political career and his ideological adaptation mirror the development of the country since the end of communist rule.”
This was the introductory sentence to my last blog post about Montenegro in the Fall of 2016 on the occasion of the parliamentary election. It says a lot about the political role of Milo Đukanović that it would be possible to use this section again, only replacing parliamentary elections with presidential ones. Yet, the 1.5 years since the parliamentary election were not as uneventful as this little jab suggests. This blog post will briefly summarize the developments after the 2016 parliamentary elections, present the results of the recent presidential election and provide a forecast of what this might mean for Montenegrin political stability and democratic development.
The aftermath of the 2016 parliamentary elections
After the parliamentary elections that were won by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its candidate Milo Đukanović, the Democratic Front (DF) and other opposition parties declared that they would not recognize the election results due to the pressure on all opposition parties throughout the campaign (in particular, as the coup claims and the arrest of allegedly Serbian paramilitaries arguably influenced the election or at least the turnout). Due to this, Đukanović stepped down as prime minister (yet not as chair of the ruling DPS) and was replaced by Duško Marković. Some analysts argue that Milo got ahead of his intra-party critics, who blame him for the waning power and influence of the DPS. Until recently, the DPS had what Komar and Živković (2016, 793) described as an “image of invincibility”, a phenomenon characterized by a dominant or hegemonic party that gains from “the public perception that it cannot lose any elections”. The fear of losing this image of invincibility and not being able to form a coalition government led to the Đukanović’s retreat.
What seemed to some as the final ouster of a political dinosaur at the forefront of Montenegrin politics for 30 years was nothing more than an embossed tradition. It was actually the third time that Đukanović had used this ‘replacement technique’. In 2006 he announced his retirement from politics, installing Željko Sturanović as his replacement as prime minister. In 2008, after Sturanović resigned – due to health issues – Đukanović came back. Similarly, in 2010, Đukanović installed his long-time supporter Igor Lukšić to become the next prime minister. And again, Milo returned two years later and was elected to a seventh term by the Montenegrin parliament (RFE/RL 2012). There is little doubt that all three were a “political ploy” (Pavlović 2016), although Đukanović also pursued business interests. These business interests make him and his family very rich and the focus of immense criticism, even getting him labeled as Podgorica’s Godfather by international media (Ernst 2016).
Presidential elections 2018
After Đukanović’s retreat in 2016, talk started immediately about him running for president (a position he had already held from 1998 to 2002). He confirmed his candidacy in March 2018. He was unanimously backed by the leadership of his DPS (Reuters 2018), the coalition partner, the Liberal Party (LPCG), as well as a variety of other groups. Similar to the 2016 parliamentary elections campaign, the brief campaign for the presidency was styled as a contest between two opposing directions: Either EU membership and thus an – at least proclaimed – orientation towards the West or closer ties to Russia. Yet, the intensity that was reached during the 2016 campaign where Đukanović painted the dire picture of Montenegro becoming a “Russian Colony”, was not the same (see for reports e.g. Deutsche Welle 2016). It was not possible to confirm similar dramatic statements for the presidential campaign. Even more so, Đukanović moderated his verbal tactics and instead emphasized that he was not running for personal ambition: “(Victory) is more important for Montenegro and its path than to me personally, I am someone who has fulfilled my ambitions in politics,” (McLaughlin 2018).
At the same time, the opposition was not able to agree on a common candidate, yet Mladen Bojanić was supported by a broad group (among them the Democratic Front, Democratic Montenegro, United Reform Action and the Socialist People’s Party) (OSCE 2018) as well as Goran Danilović (a former candidate). A third candidate – Draginja Vuksanović – could also have had a key role. If she had reached close to 10% of the votes, a second round would have become likely.
Roughly one month after announcing his candidacy Đukanović was elected president in the first round with a projected majority of 54 % over the 33% of his main opponent, Mladen Bojanic (CeMI 2018). He was directly elected for a term of 5 years (with a maximum of 2 terms) (Art. 96 Constitution of Montenegro).
Milo Đukanović has had a formative influence on the democratic practice, the political process and the development of the society in Montenegro (Banovic 2016). But since stepping down in 2016 as prime minister and installing one of his most important allies, Duško Marković as prime minister, their relation has reportedly soured (Ernst 2018). Đukanović’s impact over key political issues has become more constrained. The presidency is however not a powerful institution – at least constitutionally. Apart from a rather active role in the investiture of a new prime minister, his power and influence are limited. But it is also a fact that as chair of the DSP, Đukanović will be able “to wield considerable power and influence policy through the ranks of his Democratic Socialist party” (The Guardian 2018). It is unclear how the relation between Marković as prime minister and Đukanović as president will play out. In particular, his role in negotiating the EU accession of Montenegro will be of interest. Traditionally, presidents try to influence foreign policy even when they are not powerful in other areas. Đukanović’s main interest was always the orientation towards the West and it can expected that he will be involved in the EU accession negotiations. There is an inevitable conflict with the prime minister looming.
Banović, Damir (2016): Montenegro, in: Fruhstorfer, Anna, and Michael Hein (eds): Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, 289-306.
CeMI (2018): Election Results, in: https://twitter.com/CeMI_ME/status/985606974682353664?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.euronews.com%2F2018%2F04%2F16%2Fmilo-djukanovic-wins-montenegro-s-presidential-elections-pollster-cemi&tfw_site=euronews, last accessed April 16, 2018.
Deutsche Welle (2016): Montenegro’s longtime ruler faces ballot test (October 16), in: http://www.dw.com/en/montenegros-longtime-ruler-faces-ballot-test/a-36052927, last accessed October 18, 2016.
Ernst, Andreas (2016) Der Pate von Podgorica, in: https://www.nzz.ch/international/europa/djukanovic-haelt-montenegro-fest-in-der-hand-der-pate-von-podgorica-ld.122532. Last accessed April 16, 2018.
RFE/RL (2012): Djukanovic Gets Seventh Term As Montenegrin Prime Minister, in: https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-djukanovic/24789724.html, December 5, last accessed April 16, 2018.
Komar, Olivera & Živković, Slaven (2016). Montenegro: A democracy without alternations. East European Politics and Societies, 30(4), 785-804.
McLaughlin, Daniel (2018): East-West relations and mafia violence dominate election in Montenegro, in The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/east-west-relations-and-mafia-violence-dominate-election-in-montenegro-1.3460842, last accessed April 13, 2018.
OSCE (2016): Montenegro, in: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/montenegro/295511?download=true
OSCE (2018): Interim Report, in: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/montenegro/376573?download=true, last accessed April 14, 2018.
Pavlović, Srđa (2016) Montenegro’s ‘stabilitocracy’: The West’s support of Đukanović is damaging the prospects of democratic change, in: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/12/23/montenegros-stabilitocracy-how-the-wests-support-of-dukanovic-is-damaging-the-prospects-of-democratic-change/, last accessed April 16, 2018.
Reuters (2018): Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s long-serving PM, to run for presidency, in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-montenegro-election/milo-djukanovic-montenegros-long-serving-pm-to-run-for-presidency-idUSKBN1GW1PJ, last accessed April 16, 2018.
The Guardian (2018): Pro-EU politician set to win Montenegro’s presidential election, in: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/15/montenegro-votes-in-first-presidential-election-since-joining-nato, last accessed April 16, 2018.
 The DPS won with 41% (36 seats in the 81 seat parliament) (OSCE 2016).